Week One Breakdown: Jacksonville Jaguars

Victory Monday’s have been rare around the team in the last two seasons, but that’s what this team got to enjoy this week. Before we can really look ahead towards a pivotal Week Two match-up with the Tennessee Titans, let’s break down what worked and what didn’t against the Indianapolis Colts. In what is going to be an NZI staple, allow me to introduce to you What Went Right, What Went Wrong, and WTF. As always, the complaint box doesn’t exist, but feel free to comment or reach out on Twitter- @HindenburgScout.

What Went Right

James Robinson is a breath of fresh air for Jaguars coaches and fans alike. I’m not here to bash Leonard Fournette, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and his pick-six throwing quarterback he was so excited about. Robinson doesn’t have the raw athleticism that Fournette did, a tantalizing blend of speed and power that vaulted him to be the fourth overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. He does have two things that Fournette does not – vision and contact balance. Robinson repeatedly found the creases in the defense in the first half, and was able to maximize his gains by maintaining his balance through contact. His balance was on full display in the 2nd half when he was hit midair after hurdling a defender and was able to stay upright through the contact, turning a minimal gain into a crucial 28-yard gain. While his final stat line may seem pedestrian, 16 carries for 62 yards, he was 10 for 60 in the first half. The second half lack of production was more on the offensive line and quarterback – more on that to come. Robinson became the first UDFA to start at running back in a season opener in 30 years on Sunday, and he looked like he belonged. I guess Doug Marrone wasn’t just blowing smoke when he repeatedly praised Robinson throughout training camp.

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James Robinson (Courtesy of jaguars.com)

The defenses ability to bend, not break, CJ Henderson and winning the turnover battle. The defense didn’t play spectacular, not by any stretch of the imagination. They gave up a whopping 363 yards on 36 completions to Philip Rivers. All backs found some success. However, when it mattered most, they were able to make a play. Veteran nose tackle, Abry Jones, may have very well changed the course of the game when he stuffed a 4th-and-short attempt inside the 5-yard line on the Colts second possession. CJ Henderson, there’s not enough I can say about how impressive he played in his rookie debut. Considering that debut came against one of the better receivers in the game, T.Y. Hilton, and a quarterback as decorated as Philip Rivers, the coaching staff has to be thrilled. He made several critical tackles and defended three passes. Henderson also recorded 1 of 2 interceptions on Sunday, with backup safety Andrew Wingard snagging the second in what essentially sealed the victory. When the offense is able to play a turnover-free game, and the defense forces multiple, NFL math says that ends in a victory the majority of the time. From a big picture standpoint, this Colts team was heavily favored, for good reason. It was just one game, and making bold statements about a long season based on kickoff Sunday are often off-base, but this team clearly had a chip on it’s shoulder and wanted to make a statement. For one week, at least, mission accomplished.

Gardner Minshew and Jay Gruden’s understanding of each other. The sheer statistics are eye-popping. 19 of Minshew’s 20 attempts were complete; his one incomplete pass was a drop by rookie Laviska Shenault. What a difference it makes when a coach is effective at scheming around his players strengths. Minshew looked confident, poised and more than capable of leading this offense. There will be no bigger story around the Jaguars than 15’s play this season, as the future of the franchise is quite literally dependent on it. Perhaps most encouraging was Minshew’s willingness and effectiveness at targeting the middle of the field. Last season, the vast majority of his production came outside of the numbers. Being able to convert passes inside the numbers is crucial to this offense’s ability to sustain drives. Credit is due to the offense as a whole, as DJ Chark wasn’t able to take over the game. It is no secret that for all his moxie, Gardner Minshew does not have the strongest arm. Gruden’s West Coast scheme is the perfect offense to maximize what he does well: being accurate and decisive from the pocket and taking what the defense gives him.

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) walks back to the huddle during the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
Gardner Minshew enters his second season with a “C” on his jersey, showing the team’s faith in the young signal caller. (Courtesy of jaguars.com)

What Went Wrong

The offensive line deserves credit for its overall performance, but was still one of the bigger issues on Sunday. Last season the line just didn’t get it done. Many observers expected the team to address the line in the 2020 NFL Draft, but both Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell insisted they believed in the group’s ability to perform better this season. For the most part, they did. Minshew had plenty of time to scan the field on the majority of his snaps, and James Robinson averaged six yards per carry in the first half. Unfortunately Robinson’s biggest run of the day was negated by a Brandon Linder facemask penalty, what was a big gain and early momentum ended up in a drive killer. When the line makes a mistake, it is seemingly always at the worst times. In the first half Minshew converted a key 3rd down to sustain a drive, only for RT Jawaan Taylor to get beat inside on the ensuing snap for an eight-yard sack that Minshew had no chance of avoiding. Following halftime the Jaguars offense had just 6 carries for a grand total of 2 yards. The Colts defense clearly made the necessary adjustments, and the line failed to generate any push or open holes. Such a significant drop off is worth monitoring moving forward.

This team is still bad at situational football. The Jaguars had an opportunity to pull ahead in this game much earlier than they did. Following their second touchdown of the day to tie the game at 14, the Colts started their drive with under two minutes until halftime. Scheduled to receive the kickoff to start the third quarter, it was a great opportunity for the defense to force a stop and for the offense to come out with a strong script of plays and take control of the game. That’s not what happened. Instead the Colts were able to add a field goal and enter the half with a 17-14 lead. No big deal, as the offense still had a chance to tie or take the lead with a strong possession to start the third quarter, right? Nope. In typical Jaguars fashion, the offense inexplicably came out flat with a quick three-and-out. It obviously didn’t matter much as the team was able to pull off the win this week, but considering that this time is unlikely to be favored to win a game anytime soon and the overall youth of the roster, they have to get better at situational football when there are clear opportunities to take control of the football game.

WTF?

Despite the offense’s efficiency and success, where were the field stretching deep pass attempts? Outside of one deep pass attempt to DJ Chark which led to a big gain via a pass interference call, the offense was almost entirely dink and dunk. It’s not like the offensive line was struggling heavily in pass protection either. There are more than a few reasons why this is an issue. The wide receivers on this team deserve big play opportunities. DJ Chark and Gardner Minshew connected on a number of deep passes last season, and Chark has made the most of his chances. Chris Conley is FAST, with an outrageous vertical. Collin Johnson is 6’6 and is known for his ability to go up and win 50/50 balls. Laviska Shenault is more than capable of taking the top off of a defense. To make it even more confusing, for all the discussions around Gardner Minshew’s arm strength, he finished 2019 with the second highest passer rating on passes of 20+ yards. His accuracy and touch, along with his targets making the play, actually made him very dangerous when he attempted to push the ball downfield. This is one contributing factor to the lack of a run game in the second half. The Colts defense was able to condense their formations and have everyone closer to the line of scrimmage and sticks as the Jaguars entire game plan seemed to consist of misdirection and quick rhythm spacing routes. This week it all worked out, but moving forward the Jaguars offense MUST be able to test defenses down the field. At least be willing to give Chark, Shenault or Johnson the chance to make a play and make the defense respect it.

We knew this defense wasn’t exactly going to be Sacksonville, but a goose egg in the sack column is more than a little concerning. I wrote in my Week One preview article that outside of Josh Allen, I was unsure if any lineman could be counted on to win their reps consistently. Credit to Allen as he was able to pressure Rivers on numerous occasions and had a couple of quarterback hits. However, the pass rush was essentially non-existent when Allen wasn’t winning, and Rivers isn’t exactly a dual-threat in the backfield, or blessed with the most pocket presence. Todd Wash dialed up several blitzes in an attempt to disrupt the Colts passing game, to minimal effect. The only sack credited to the Jaguars defense was a Myles Jack hit on Jacoby Brissett in what was a befuddling play call that I’m not entirely sure was a pass play. As the season progresses, the pass rush must improve. Allen must get to the quarterback quicker, and K’Lavon Chaisson must start to make an impact. Taven Bryan needs to continue the growth he showed near the end of last season and provide interior pressure. Whatever Todd Wash needs to do to generate a pass rush, he needs to figure that out. Be it from sub-package formations, an increase in blitzes, or even moving away from his beloved (though maddening) Cover 3 scheme, this defense needs to be able to pressure opposing quarterbacks. They just are not good enough in the secondary to give guys like Philip Rivers 4-6 seconds all game long.

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The Jaguars defense celebrates a big play in Sunday’s 27-20 victory over the Colts. (Courtesy of jaguars.com)

Wrapping up Week One, It’s Titans Week.

The Jaguars shocked many by winning Sunday, but it shouldn’t have. Despite the national media criticizing the team at every turn, this was never a tank job. Players have way to much pride to tank. In an unpredictable league, division games are even harder to predict. The AFC South is going to be ultra-competitive this season. If the Jaguars are going to be in the mix, then more performances like Sunday’s must happen, and they must improve. Winning is everything. Confidence and momentum are two things impossible to measure but absolutely impact seasons. Gardner Minshew must keep the poise he showed Sunday. The defense must remain opportunistic and take advantage of turnover worthy plays. Josh Lambo has to remain automatic. The rookies have to continue contributing in a big way. DUUUVAL, it feels great to be 1-0. Now, it’s Titans week. Oh boy… Buckle up.

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